Sunday, March 2, 2008



Being a fan of old jazz, especially big band jazz, of the 30s, 40s, and 50s, I have run across what can best be described as a novelty tune, “Istanbul (not Constantinople),” written by Jimmy Kennedy (lyrics) and Nat Simon (music), and a gold record for the Four Lads in 1953. (A (not much) younger relative of mine pointed out to me at dinner tonight that the song was remade by someone in the ‘80s.) It’s a silly, yet catchy, tune, the most popular and oft-repeated line of which is

“Istanbul, not Constantinople, no you can’t go back to Constantinople, for it’s Istanbul, not Constantinople.”

The song professes confusion as to why the town of Constantinople was renamed “Istanbul” but reminds the listener that

“…even old New York was once New Amsterdam” perhaps because

“…people just liked it better that way.”

The song concludes with another asking of the question regarding the changing of Constantinople’s name and the reply

“…it’s nobody’s business but the Turks’.”

to end the song.

On perhaps my first hearing of this song, I declared at its conclusion that there was a profound geopolitical message in this seemingly harmless bit of musical fluff. My wife, ever the sensible one in the family, responded with something to the effect that only I would find geopolitical profundity in a silly old ditty from the ‘50s.

But think about it. “It’s nobody’s business but the Turks’” What if we were to apply that simple conclusion to all of the globe’s puzzles, questions, and problems? Where do we get off taking it upon ourselves to solve everyone’s problems, and answer everyone’s inquiries, our way?

If Jimmy Kennedy, or any of the Four Lads, still walks this planet, perhaps the next president might consider asking one of them to become Secretary of State.

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